Words: Kevin Stebner
Yeah, I’m late this year. But let’s be honest, all these year-end lists get churned out so fast, leaving no time for perspective, they basically miss all of December in their compiling. I needed the time to let it stew. Normally, these features have the same boring 40 records that are on every other list, leading one to believe that only 50 albums got made last year or the impression that the underground has ceased to exist. So, let’s be clear, top lists are boring — they rehash the same records, never ever focus on individual songs, and COMPLETELY ignores singles. I want to avoid that and illuminate some things you may have missed. I can’t say too many “albums” per se really struck me, but there were a ton of individual songs that wrecked me.
So, here are the 12 best songs I heard in 2012; 6 hardcore, 6 otherwise, that made my life melt and really rewarded all the time I spent digging and listening. Enjoy!
Jason Molina – “No Hand Was at the Wheel”
From: Autumn Bird Songs (Graveface)
How was this recording not big news? Three years since the last Magnolia Electric Co. recordings, on hiatus for a number of reasons. Many of the new songs come off as no more than demos, but Molina has always shone in that form. Just put his voice up front and it’s already perfect. Molina is the master of being sad-sack, yet never melodramatic, and “No Hand” is just that: almost genre-free in his sombre and naked songs.
Gold – “Losing Your Hair”
From: Losing Your Hair EP (self-released)
I just know that when Gold gets spoken about it’s going to be for the Women connection or to focus on the front-women’s looks, but put that away, because it’s the music that makes them worth your time and love. I’m rarely a fan of dreamy pop music, but Gold bore to the kernel of strong writing, luminescent grooves, and slight vocals. “Lose Your Hair” has such a wonderful interweave with the ladies’ voices and guitars.
Cousins – “Thunder”
From: The Palm at the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl)
Easily the jam of the summer. Just slow, plodding and beautiful. The most simple of riffs, repetitive love song sentiments — the soundtrack to backyard fires or driving into sunsets in slow motion. Three-chord perfection.
Mac DeMarco – “Ode to Viceroy”
From: 2 (Captured Tracks)
Mac is too fun. How is it possible that this hokey and jokey lounge music is so enjoyable? I just can’t deny it; Mac makes me feel like I’m in on it. The sweet groove and tape warble of “Viceroy” is the crown jewel of 2, hilarious yet soothing. A love song to cigarettes? Sure, why not, Mac – you can sell it to me.
Eamon McGrath – “Great Lakes”
From: Young Canadians (White Whale)
Canadiana at its finest. In an age where people would rather sing about dancing or shoes than their world around them, Eamon may well be the torch-bearer for Rock’n Roll in this country. “Great Lakes” begins as a quiet acoustic song and crescendos with a pulsing stomp and noisy guitars into gruff sublimity. I’d submit this track as the new national anthem.
Fiver – “Calm & Collected”
From: Two Songs 7″ (Indoor Shoes)
Simone Schmidt’s voice, once again, conquers. Ever-powerful in storyteller mode, “Calm & Collected” weaves yet another sombre tale of quiet fear. Put away all your hang-ups you may have regarding country, because this track carries more emotional weight in a single song than all of 2012 pop music combined. The pulsing wash of the trem, the haunting voices, the whole MOOD is just miles above any “alt-country” act in the world.
Catlin Elm – “Make This Your Life”
From: Catlin Elm/Coma Regalia split 7″ (Middle Man)
Without a doubt, THE emo jam of the year. I suggest bands listen to what Catlin Elm are doing here. See, it’s not technicality or heaviness that a good hardcore band makes, but the TENSION they’re able to weave. Catlin Elm do this so deftly, it’s truly a marvel to have been captured on wax. The hand claps harken back to Hawkes, and that vocal is still as perfectly haggard as ever. Moving.
Fell to Low – “Sartoris”
From: Sensible Sounds of Men 7″ (React)
Wow. Fell to Low could be the best new hardcore band in the states right now. Really sharp guitars, hard rhythms. Somewhere in between Chicago noise-rock and Damages, with enough D.C. to keep it smart. “Sartoris” arcs like a movement, starts with a math-heavy riff, marching steadily to its hard-hitting conclusion. I wish this were the direction hardcore was heading, but I’m glad at least glad Fell to Low are able to least hammer it out for us.
Ten Thousand Leagues – “Guillotine Pipe”
From: 2012 demo (self released)
No one does chaos anymore, or when they do, it’s calculated to the point where chaos is merely a pretense. “Guillotine Pipe” is an utter mess, the guitars are completely out of tune, and 10K Leagues actually sound scary and dangerous. In this world of Touche’s, it’s a blessing to be hit with this cacophony.
Facel Vega – “Gertrude”
From: The Body (Art for Blind)
I’ve championed this record before, and were I to pick a favourite album of the year (even though it’s technically a 2011 release, but no matter), The Body might be it. “Gertrude” is probably my jam on this record. Rollicking and almost off the rails. Not to beat the Rites of Spring comparison into the ground, but Facel Vega take that revolution summer thing and crash it to the ground.
Baader Brains – “New Era Hope Colony”
From: New Era Hope Colony (Clean Plate)
New Era Hope Colony is a searing bread basket of assortments; it’s got that revolutionary Nation of Ulysses-like swagger, it’s political, and perhaps polemical, but undeniably blazing and fun. Incredible use of jazz, soul and political speech samples, absolutely tearing riffs. Sarah/Mike Kirsch has been mining this style of post-hardcore for decades, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. RIP Sarah Kirsch!
Veneers – “Gold Nails”
From: Similar Stories (Anteduvia)
Easily one of the most unique and interesting post-hardcore statements made in this country this year. “Gold Nails” is packed full: guitar tones I’ve never heard, phone-recorded vocals, curious drum patterns. It’s not easy listening, in a genre that’s already not easy listening… thankfully so.